By CAROL COMEGNO
The nonprofit that operates the battleship New Jersey as a museum is taking advantage of the nation's birthday weekend to hold its largest fund-raiser for the museum.
Patrons who buy tickets to the Battleship Blast will be able to dine, dance to a live band on the ship's main deck and watch the Two Cities/Two States fireworks on July 5 on the Delaware River.
Troy Collins, president and CEO of the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial, operated by the Home Port Alliance, said the inaugural event will aim to attract corporate sponsors but it is also open to individuals.
"We're very excited about it," Collins said. "We're having two outstanding leaders from both sides of the river as event co-sponsors and we're getting a good response so far."
The co-chairmen are Vernon Hill II, founder and chairman of Commerce Bank, headquartered in Cherry Hill, and Philadelphia Mayor John Street.
Hill calls the event a rare opportunity to support the ship's ongoing restoration and the efforts to educate schoolchildren and other visitors as well as to enjoy the fireworks from a vantage point on the Camden waterfront.
The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception followed by dinner, dancing, the fireworks and dessert.
Ticket prices range from $250 to $500 per person and corporate sponsorships from $1,250 to $10,000.
Collins said representatives of the new National Constitution Center, which will have its grand opening July Fourth in Philadelphia, have bought tickets. Commerce Bank has exceeded the suggested corporate contribution, donating $15,000 as a sponsor.
Proceeds will help pay operating expenses of the nation's most decorated battleship, which ran a deficit last year in its first full year of operation.
The ship was built by men and women from this region. It was launched in 1942 from the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and retired in 1991 after serving in four major wars and conflicts.
Pat Jones, co-chairman of the Home Port Alliance, said the loss of a promised $7.2 million state grant because of the state's budget crisis was a financial blow to the museum's start-up operation.
She said the alliance recently secured a Commerce Bank loan of close to $1 million guaranteed by the Delaware River Port Authority to help pay expenses from 2002.
The museum's operating budget is about $5.7 million.
Said Jones: "We need to raise more revenue to keep the ship going and hope people will see the value of giving back to a ship that has made outstanding contributions to freedom since World War II - and have absolutely the best view of the fireworks."
Collins said although rainy weather has affected attendance this year, as it has most businesses that depend on good weather, attendance is significantly ahead of last year.
"We have completed our reorganization and professional staffing and are poised to achieve our goals," he said.
Reach Carol Comegno at (609) 267-9486 or firstname.lastname@example.org